Commentary: One of the season’s great gifts

By John Krull
TheStatehouseFile.com 

INDIANAPOLIS – The carolers warbling in the main concourse of Indianapolis International Airport ring a distant bell.

John Krull, publisher, TheStatehouseFile.com

Dressed in period costumes, they sing:

We wish you a merry Christmas,

We wish you a merry Christmas.

We wish you a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

A couple with small children does a slow march out of concourse B. The mother and father both look frazzled. The children, two girls under the age of 5, have that air of petulance that combining overstimulation and exhaustion produces in the very young.

But, when the mother points out the carolers, they all stop to listen. They smile. Mother and father kiss. They each lift a daughter for a hug.

And they move on, a little more spirit in their strides.

I sit nearby, waiting for my own daughter to deplane from the flight bringing her home from college.

The sounds of carolers and the smiles of the family recall a memory.

Years ago, when I was a young, single man, I drove to Bangor, Maine, one December. In those days, I liked traveling to distant places at times when there weren’t likely to be many tourists. I wanted to see what life was like in other spots when the residents weren’t trying to put on a show for strangers.

The temperature dropped steadily as I worked my way east and north from Indiana. By the time I reached Maine, it was in the single digits. Plows had pushed the snow to the sides of the highway, packing it so high that the cars seemed to move over the road like bullets traveling down the bore of a sepulchral rifle.

Storm predictions had dogged my drive north. Young and heedless, I hadn’t paid much attention to them. I’d driven through snow before. Things would be fine.

When I awoke in the hotel after my first night in Bangor, I learned what a winter storm could be like that far north and east. A freezing rain fell hard, followed by snow, making the streets and sidewalks treacherous to travel. Businesses closed. Roads were shut down.

I gave brief thought to just climbing back in my car and heading home. But even the quickest glance told me my little two-seat sports car would have all the traction of a sled with greased rails on those icy roads.

I was stuck until the storm passed and the roads could be cleared. I might miss Christmas back home.

I wasn’t the only one. My hotel was packed with travelers – most of them business people – stranded by the weather.

The snow fell steadily for two days. I spent my time reading in the hotel room and taking slippery walks over the sidewalks or slow tromps through fields of snow to nearby restaurants. Dreariness dogged me.

On my third night in the hotel, I heard a sound outside my room.

A group of carolers had come to the hotel. They sang “White Christmas” in the hallway.

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas

Just like the ones I used to know…

I opened my door and stepped out into the hall. Other travelers had done the same.

The carolers walked down the hall, still singing. A group of us followed them.

We settled in the lobby.

The carolers continued their mini concert. They encouraged us to join in. Slowly, smiles replaced dour looks on the faces of the stranded.

Between songs, I asked one of the carolers, an older man, what brought them out.

“We figured there might be some folks stuck here who could use a little lift,” he said, his Maine accent so thick only an ax could have chopped through it.

I did make it home that Christmas, and I left Bangor thinking fondly of Maine and its people.

The holiday season is a time when we think of gifts, both spiritual and material. One of the greatest of these is the one that animated those carolers in Maine so long ago.

Simple kindness.

My daughter comes out of concourse B. We rush together for a hug.

The carolers in the airport, giving voice to kindness, sing “Silent Night.”

My daughter looks at them and smiles.

“It’s so good to be home,” she says.

All is calm. All is bright.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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